Your body is designed to maintain homeostasis or balance. It does this via the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Numerous systems in the body are regulated by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
The ANS has two components:
The Sympathetic nervous system- is responsible for the “flight or fight reactions” or the stress response. In general, the sympathetic nervous system speeds thing up by stimulating the adrenal glands to secrete hormones like epinephrine and cortisol.
The parasympathetic nervous system– is responsible for “breeding and feeding”. It slows down processes in our bodies.
Imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic can eventually lead to disease.
With respect to pain, the autonomic nervous system stimulates an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus can affect global muscle tone, local fluid dynamics as well as the tone and fluid dynamics in fascia.
The Central Nervous System (CNS)
The CNS is an integral part of the Human Movement System (HMS). It helps to coordinate movements around joints to ensure that optimal movement occurs. When there is sub-optimal movement, there is neuromuscular inefficiency- The inability of muscles to produce, reduce and stabilize movement in all planes of motion. The eventual result is injury and an injury cycle.
The CNS helps with balance partially through proprioception (one’s sense of perception of the relative position of body parts as related to movement). The CNS is influenced by mechanoreceptors (sensory receptors that respond to mechanical pressure or distortion).
The CNS has effects on skeletal muscle tone.
The Central nervous system’s ability to efficiently control movement, is dependent upon the information it receives (proprioception) from muscles and joints. Injury can affect muscle strength and length. It is essential to address both these components for optimal balancing and long-term resolution of painful conditions.
When a muscle is facilitated, it is over active and often shortened. Techniques to address this can include:
Dry needling, Trigger point therapy and Myofascial release Stretching
When a muscle is inhibited, it is under active and often lengthened. Techniques to address this can include:
Dry needling, Muscle Activation Techniques and Positional isometrics.
After muscles are balanced, mobilizing the affected joint(s) is essential for re-establishing normal range of motion.
Once there is full pain free motion in all planes of movement, corrective exercises can be used to “groove” new motor patterns.
Because the ANS is not under direct conscious control, it is best balanced through lifestyle modifications, such as those pertaining to:
From a dietary perspective there are general and specific recommendations.
In general, one’s diet should be whole foods/plant based with an adequate amount of essential fats and protein and minimal amount of high glycemic carbohydrates (refined). Meals should be timed to ensure blood sugar stability and portions should be light to moderate.
Michael Pollan's recommendations: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store.
4. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot
5. Always leave the table a little hungry
6. Enjoy meals with the people you love.
Specific dietary recommendations are unique to the individual and are best determined through the process of elimination and challenge. “One man’s food is another’s poison”.
Poor sleep hygiene stresses the sympathetic aspect of the nervous system, which can have catabolic effects. This in turn compromises one’s ability to heal.
Poor-quality sleep also leads to lower levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that is associated with a calming, anxiety-reducing feeling in the body. When serotonin is depleted from lack of sleep, the result is an increase in sensitivity to pain, as well as increased feelings of anxiety, malaise, and even depression.
Poor sleep lowers your pain threshold, both making you more sensitive to pain and making your pain more intense.
Exercise is a stress which produces adaptations. Ideally, there needs to be adequate rest and variety.
An optimal exercise program should include:
Core, balance and reactive(plyometric) training
Optional- Speed, agility and quickness can be included for certain populations’ e.g. athletes.
Prolonged stress alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate the inflammatory response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to the hormone.
Specifically, immune cells become insensitive to cortisol’s regulatory effect and in turn inflammation can get out of control.
Self-hypnosis/meditation/Guided imagery are great tools to modify the stress response. Some of the key research on meditation was carried out by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University. In a series of experiments into various popular meditation techniques, Dr. Benson established that these techniques had a very real effect on reducing stress and controlling the fight-or-flight response. Direct effects included slowed heartbeat and breathing, reduced oxygen consumption and increased skin resistance.